If you don’t feel a thrill tingle through you when you see a blank page, try again.
“Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” -C.S. Lewis
Think of the possibilities a blank page holds. Forget about word counts, forget about readers, and write for pure joy.
Your title is important. It’s the first words a potential reader sees, and your first chance to draw them into your story. How does a writer go about finding the right title for their story?
Titles Don’t Come First!
In my experience, writing a story for a title just doesn’t turn out well. It’s too constraining. Usually a title is made for a story, not the other way around. I’ve written multiple stories now that remain title-less even after the plot is full fledged, and are just waiting for some title TLC.
Titles Take Thought
Sometimes they come easy, but with longer novel-length stories, often they don’t. It helps to really know what your story is about. (If you’re like me and prefer to write off-the-cuff, sometimes you don’t know what your story is about. Someone once asked what the NaNoWriMo novel I’d written was about, and I said, “I don’t know, I haven’t read it!”) Titles take thought, study, critique, and revision. When something catches, you’ll know it.
- Reflect the essence of your story
- Have meaning for the reader before they read your story. If your book is fantasy, you may be tempted to write fantasy words into the title, but my advice is to keep this to a minimum. The title should communicate something about your story to potential readers who have no knowledge of your story whatsoever, thus enticing them to pick your book off the shelf.
- NOT give away too much. They’re just a glance at the worm on the hook. The first paragraph should get the bite, and the first chapter reel them in.
What are your tricks for titles? Writers don’t get much chance to practice these. A great way to learn is to pay attention to your favorite stories, study the titles, and see what works for your tastes.
I’ve long been a proponent of cranking out words and upping your word count. That’s what writers do, right? Keep writing, and you’re bound to come up with something good among all those keystrokes.
This approach definitely works sometimes and for some writers, but there are other approaches too, and these can be refreshing. I was talking with a writer friend recently who reminded me that some writers have a limited number of stories inside them. Indeed, many authors like Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame only published one book, and found success.
It was a relief to me to consider the idea that a writer has a limited number of stories to tell. After my first NaNoWriMo success, I’ve been disappointed with my other attempts partly because I see myself telling the same story all over again. But perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s because that one story is my story. Maybe it’s my only story. And that’s all right.
Lesson of the day: don’t force it. Sometimes, forcing a story or word count is helpful, but in the end, writing has to feel natural to read natural. You don’t need to write a billion words to be a successful writer, unless that’s your thing. Only one story told well, in a way that pleases you, is enough.
When the clouds have gathered and the sun won’t shine
and the power’s gone
and thunder is rumbling
grab a pen
and write it out.
When everything sparkles with new fallen snow
a million diamonds
cleaner than stardust
grab a keyboard
and write it out.
When seagulls take off
with your hat
and your lunch
and your sandals
and your notepad
reconsider feeding the seagulls
grab some driftwood
and write it out.
When you have no pen
or sand and driftwood
then write it out.
There wasn’t anything special about it in particular. It was like many others of its kind, having a cylindrical shape with an accordion bend about four fifths of the way up its torso. This straw had green stripes longways down its pearly white sides. (Many of its kin had red.)
Yup. This was the last straw. I saw it only briefly, in somebody else’s fingers, surely destined for a long and illustrious career carrying liquid contents from cup to pleased consumer.
Alas, it was the last straw.
Having trouble getting back to writing? Maybe you’re just not sure where to start, or writing a novel seems way too big a project to take on. Life is hectic, no doubt about it. If you’re worried about your word count, try making writing easier for yourself. Writing short and sweet is both easier than writing long (and sour?) and it’s good practice for getting your idea and message across in a short amount of time and space.
Have a novel to write? Try starting with 500 words. Have a message to get out there? Maybe try 200. Have a seemingly unbeatable word count to tackle? Every finished manuscript begins with a few keystrokes.
Write short, write sweet, have fun! Your unique perspective deserves to be heard. And let yourself go when the words are flowing out. Many writers make their craft harder for themselves than it needs to be, but at its core, writing is as easy as a kid drawing on the sidewalk, as simple as yesterday. Yes, it can take thought and effort and nose-to-the-grindstone work… but not today.
Just type the keys and let memory and imagination flow.
There was an idea in your head today. One too big to keep inside, one that demanded to be given free reign on a page. What did you do with it? Make a note to self and save it for later? That’s good. Maybe you were lucky enough to start writing immediately? That’s even better.
Or maybe you ignored it. That’s all right, you’ll have more ideas tomorrow. Don’t ignore those.
Writing, like any habit, becomes easier when backed with the momentum of repeated practice. If you haven’t written for a while, getting the first week’s worth of NaNoWriMo pages down may feel like scraping rust off your creative gears with a chisel. But by the time you reach “The End” and cease writing, you’ll feel something missing from your days, an empty space once filled with clacking keys and soaring wordcount. Changing habits is the hardest part of becoming a writer.
Start thinking. Write now. The first ideas may not come easy. That’s okay, that’s how it starts. Once you get your mental juices flowing and start to view the world through a writer’s eyes—eyes that notice, ears that listen, all that—your ideas will be too numerous to hold onto. That’s where a writer’s notebook comes in. I write things down on a notepad until I’m in a place to write.
Writing is practice. That’s it. The more you practice the stronger the habit will be, and the more words you’ll have to call your own. You’ll learn, you’ll enjoy it, you’ll get better. And someday, a reader will find your story. Enchanted, they’ll turn page after page, soaking it up, till they reach the end. With stars in their eyes, they’ll reach for their own pen.